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Saturday, May 26
Gordon hoping Indy opens up doors
By Jerry Bonkowski
INDIANAPOLIS Be it behind the wheel of a stock car, open wheel car or off-road vehicle, Robby Gordon is one of the most talented and versatile drivers in auto racing today.
He'll also be unemployed once again Sunday night, following the running of the 85th Indianapolis 500.
But don't plan any tag days for the ebullient Gordon. He's got plans, big plans that may take his racing career to an even higher level.
Rumors are abound on Gordon's future, a future that he just coyly smiles at when asked what the short-term holds in store for him. He knows where he's going; he just can't say too much about it ... at least not yet.
One rumor has Gordon heading back to NASCAR to drive for legendary owner Richard Childress. One scenario has Gordon competing in a Childress-owned Busch Series car for the remainder of this season before returning to Winston Cup in 2002.
Another scenario has Gordon primed and ready to replace the struggling Mike Skinner in the No. 31 Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet if Skinner's mediocre season does not improve dramatically in the coming races.
A third scenario has Gordon starting his own Cup team in partnership with Childress, with the likely debut being this year's Brickyard 400.
And those are just NASCAR rumors. Gordon's name is also mentioned quite prominently in returning to the Indy Northern Light Racing Series on a full-time basis. There's also talk about him going back to CART competition. And then there's his long-time standby of off-road truck and car racing.
So, lest you think Gordon is worried about where his next meal will come from after Indianapolis, think again.
"Right now, I think I'm in pretty good shape as far as after Indianapolis," Gordon said. "A lot of opportunities have been opening up."
Then, he adds with a glint in his eye and a mischievous chuckle in his voice, "Unfortunately, I'm not able to talk about them too much right now."
Answers, Robby, we want answers. Where do you go from here for the rest of 2001?
"I think this year I can pretty much do what I want," Gordon said. "But that's not to say this year is a throw-away year at all. A few months ago, I was thinking it was. That's why you can't ever -- I'm not going to say stress, because sometimes you do stress -- worry too much because it's racing, and in racing, everything changes and it's how you adapt to change.
"It's just not that big of a deal. I know I can drive, and I think every time I get into a competitive situation, we've run really good."
Gordon will start Sunday's Indianapolis 500 on the outside of the front row, the highest spot he has ever qualified for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. With backing not only from A.J. Foyt, but also with Childress as a minority partner in the 500 effort, Gordon has the support and financial and technical wherewithal of two of the biggest names in the world of motorsports.
"Looking at everything as a whole, I think I'm sitting pretty good, because I've never been, for the last 15 years, open really to do anything," Gordon said. "As soon as I was out of the Felix (Sabates) deal, I signed up with a Toyota program. As soon as I was out of the four car deal (fired earlier this year as driver of the No. 4 Morgan-McClure Motorsports Kodak Chevrolet Winston Cup ride), A.J. Foyt called. Not only does A.J. Foyt call, but Richard Childress gets involved, and he gets involved and says 'I want to be part of that program.' So, things are good. Things are not all that bad right now."
That's why Gordon has emerged from a tenuous situation earlier this year smelling like a rose. He was fired after just five races from his position as driver of the Morgan-McClure Motorsports Cup team.
Why he was fired remains unclear. Some say it was because the often mercurial Gordon didn't ingratiate himself well with primary team owner Larry McClure. Others contend Gordon's performance was poor to begin with and showed no immediate signs of improvement down the road, which Gordon vehemently denies, claiming instead that his departure was due to McClure's outdated racing philosophy and strategy.
Whatever the case, Gordon is out and Kevin Lepage is in behind the wheel of the No. 4 Cup ride.
|Robby Gordon is one of the favorites heading into Sunday, says ABC's Bob Jenkins.|
"They put another driver in their car and he hasn't done any better, so you can't say it was the driver," claimed Gordon. "It was just an unfortunate situation. I wish it wouldn't have happened, but on the other side of it, it's happened and I just need to go forward."
As much as he doesn't like talking about his departure from Morgan-McClure, when pressed, Gordon opens up.
Gordon admits that part of the reason for his firing was due to his determination to run at Indianapolis this year, and McClure's equal determination to prevent that from happening.
"They wouldn't let me race at the Speedway," Gordon said. "When I signed up with the team, they told me they would take a look at it. When I started pushing for Indy, that's when things started going sideways. They wanted me to focus only on their program.
"But (being fired) was almost the best thing that could have happened to me right now, because I would have been miserable not being able to race at the Speedway, especially now that Tony's (Stewart) racing there. I think it's pretty big that Joe (team owner Joe Gibbs) let Tony do that."
Gordon raced the 2000 Winston Cup campaign under his own dollar. That is, he owned the entire operation, lock, stock and barrel. Not only was he the driver, he was the team boss. That's why the rumor of Gordon teaming up with Childress as an investor in a new Cup team may have a lot more to it than meets the eye.
"(Owning his own team again) I think that's a reality, I really do," Gordon said. "If the right opportunity doesn't open up, that's the direction I'm going to head.
"In 1999, we had our own race team, we finished one point behind (Cristiano) da Matta (in the CART series), almost won the Indy 500 with our own team, almost won Las Vegas last year with our own Winston Cup team, and at the races we were very competitive for an underfunded program. So, some of the things I've learned since '99, having my own team, would make it easier next time.
"It's not easier on a day-to-day basis, but as far as the racing goes, it's definitely easier because you make the decisions. There's no one else to be accountable to other than yourself."
Even though his future looks bright, for now, Gordon's focus is strictly on Sunday ? or, more precisely, on winning.
"That's the beauty of racing, things change week in and week out," he said. "Two weeks ago, who won the stock car race? I don't think many people know.
"Indianapolis, they remember for awhile, and to a lesser extent the Daytona 500. If you happen to be fortunate enough to win the Indy 500, opportunities open up. Now you walk in the door of corporate companies as an Indy 500 winner, and there's only been 85 races ever.
"This is a race I've dreamed about winning ever since I was a kid. And, given where we've qualified, I think our chances look pretty good right now.
"I can say the same thing about my driving career after Indianapolis: I'm pretty up. Things are good right now for Robby Gordon."
Jerry Bonkowski covers NASCAR for ESPN.com.
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||This is a race I've dreamed about winning ever since I was a kid. And, given where we've qualified, I think our chances look pretty good right now.”
||—Gordon on the Indy 500